Questions Abound

The University of Miami football team is an unfamiliar position. With the 2001 national title and three consecutive top-2 finishes in the last three seasons, the Hurricanes are usually putting the last touches on their final product with an eye on being a serious player in the national championship picture this time of year.

Thanks in part to a near perfect quarterback, a wide receiver about to become an NFL millionaire and a defensive-line unit that constantly terrorized opposing passers, the Hurricanes haven't had to fill too many holes in March since the start of the decade.

But with nine starters from last season's 12-1 team gone, including quarterback Ken Dorsey and wide receiver Andre Johnson, the Hurricanes might need nametags when they converge at Greentree Field Tuesday to begin spring practice.

Starting Tuesday, the Hurricanes will be busy searching for a replacement for Dorsey, a No. 1 receiver, consistency along a revamped offensive line and three new starters on the defensive line, among other things. And UM coach Larry Coker, who is coming off the first defeat of his coaching career after 24 straight victories, is the first to admit that the upcoming camp will have a different feel -- at least at the start.

"We're not starting from scratch or anything but we do have some things that need to be addressed," said Coker as the Hurricanes prepare to take the field for the first time since falling to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in January. "There is still a lot of talent here but there no doubt we're going to have a different team. Obviously resolving the quarterback situation and taking a look at our defensive front are right up there."

But finding a replacement for Dorsey, who departed as the school's all-time leader in passing yards, pass completions and total offense, will be one of the main orders of business as four quarterbacks - junior transfer Brock Berlin, last year's backup Derrick Crudup, redshirt freshman Marc Guillon and 2002 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year Kyle Wright - will compete for the starting job.

It will be crowded behind center with Berlin expected to have the upper hand when camp begins but the former Florida Gator should encounter plenty of competition throughout the proceedings. Despite heightened speculation that Berlin is the frontrunner for the position the Hurricanes coaching staff has stated publicly that Crudup, Guillon and Wright will all compete for the job.

"That's one of the reasons I came here," says Berlin who completed 60.9 percent of his passes (53-of-87) in two seasons at the University of Florida before transferring in the winter of 2002 and sitting out last season to comply with NCAA rules. "Anybody that knows me would tell you I live for the competition. I knew what I was getting myself into and I'm not backing down now."

Berlin, a former consensus prep All-American as a senior at Evangel Christian Academy who left the school with three state championships, has had over a year to study the Hurricanes pro-set offense, get some work in on the scout team, get stronger in the weight room and absorb everything going on around him. He is confident it will all help him in the long run.

"I hate losing and last year left a sour taste in my mouth," said Berlin, referring to Miami's loss to Ohio State in the national title game.

Said Evangel Christian Academy coach Dennis Dunn who coached Berlin from 1995-99 and speaks to him regularly: "I know there is going to be a lot of competition down there but I would be shocked if Brock Berlin isn't the starting quarterback at the University of Miami."

Guillon, a former high school teammate of Dorsey's, impressed the coaching staff last season in limited playing time – 3-of-5 for 53 yards in two games- with his ability to read different defensive packages and remain composed while under pressure. Wright has been enrolled in classes since January in an effort to speed up his progress on the field.

The Hurricanes will also be keeping close tabs on red-shirt sophomore Frank Gore who will enter the spring as the squad's No. 1 running back after missing the 2002 season with a torn ACL. Gore, who rushed for 562 yards on 62 carries as a freshman splitting time with Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee, suffered a season-ending knee injury last spring opening the door for McGahee to start the season at tailback.

McGahee is currently preparing for the NFL, while Gore is expected to put a firm grip on the position during the spring. Jarrett Payton will spell Gore until at least the summer when highly anticipated freshman running back Tyrone Moss makes his first appearance in a UM uniform.

With Johnson, who had 52 receptions for 1,092 yards and nine touchdowns last season, headed to the professional ranks and with senior Kevin Beard out for at least the spring with a knee injury, the Hurricanes will also have some questions to answer at the wide receiver position. Senior Jason Geathers, who rushed for 398 yards and three touchdowns as a tailback last season, will commence camp as the leading candidate to win the starting position at split end. Roscoe Parrish (19 receptions, 340 receiving yards in 2002) is the frontrunner to start at the flanker position. Beard, who suffered a knee injury against Pittsburgh last season, could return for the start of fall camp in August.

After a respectable showing last season in which they allowed 11 quarterback sacks, the Hurricanes offensive line unit head into the spring without a starting center or left guard. Junior Joel Rodriguez is likely to fill the void left by former All-Big East center Brett Romberg, while Joe McGrath or Alex Pou could emerge as the starter at left guard. Junior guard Chris Myers, senior tackle Carlos Joseph and tackle Vernon Carey, all starters last season, also return.

Gone from the defensive side of the ball are Andrew Williams, Cornelius Green, Jerome McDougle, William Joseph, Jamaal Green and Matt Walters, leaving some holes along the defensive front line. Junior defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (43 tackles, seven sacks last season) is almost guaranteed one of the spots up front. Santonio Thomas, Orien Harris (36 tackles in 2002), Thomas Carroll, junior college transfer Alton Wright, John Wood and redshirt freshman are Baraka Atkins will all be vying to join Wilfork.

The graduation of Todd Sievers and Freddie Capshaw has also left the Hurricanes looking for a starting kicker and punter. Redshirt freshman punter Jon Peattie and sophomore Mark Gent are at the head of the depth chart, while non-scholarship players Francesco Zampanga and Matt Carter will also compete.

Spring practice runs until Apr. 10. The Hurricanes will host their annual spring game, Saturday, Apr. 5, at the Orange Bowl.

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